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Gospels as Spin Doctors? The Social, Cultural and Religious Context of Christianity

Ahmed Ayed

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Gospels as Spin Doctors? The Social, Cultural and Religious Context of Christianity

About Prof. Helen Bond and this TKS episode:

Prof. Helen Bond is a Professor of Christian Origins, and the Head of the School of Divinity at Edinburgh University. In this episode of The Know Show Podcast Helen discusses her research that looks at understanding the aspects of early Christianity. She delves into the social, cultural and religious context within which Christianity emerged, highlighting how ancient texts on Christianity are far from neutral, likening it to the type of spin we see in society today. She draws on the work of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus to give us an insight into the historical Jesus and the early Christian movement. Drawing on her book, ‘The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel’, she compares Mark’s Gospel with other ancient biographies, looking at how a first-century audience might have encountered Mark’s work.

 

A brief synopsis:

Prof. Helen Bond considers herself a biblical historian. She begins by discusses her research interests that lie in the historical Jesus, the social and political context of Second Temple Judaism and the early Christian movement, and the canonical gospels (especially Mark).

Helen explores Mark’s Gospel, drawing an analogy to the spin we see today. As the first narrative account of Jesus, it is intended to highlight Jesus’ virtues. She states that Mark appears to have been writing more about what he believed in rather than representing reality. The Gospels show a particular side of Jesus, portraying him as an exceptional person and the son of God who could carry out miraculous deeds. These stories may not be true, but they attracted people and offered them faith. Helen shows how we can see the influence of Mark’s Gospel on the writings of Matthew, Luke, and John. Helen talks about the taken-for-granted historical accuracy of the. She tells Hussain that in reality, the Gospels are accounts of historical storytelling and we need to hold an awareness of this when they are often perceived as fact.

The Gospels are written to convince people that Jesus is the Christ instead of God. They were trying to make people believe. And what they have written gears towards pushing that particular agenda. They are the original spin doctors.

Prof. Helen Bond

 

Helen continues by contextualising where and when Mark wrote the gospels. She concludes that he wrote them around 70-80 AD after Jerusalem fell to the Romans. She tells us he wrote in Greece, and that they contain a mixture of Jewish and Greek elements. She explores the extent to which Mark included Jewish details, and how much he was influenced by the Greek environment.

She then goes on to explain the link between dates of biblical scenes and symbolic historical events. There is a connection between them which shows that things don’t happen randomly, where they are geared to show that God is in charge of everything. She highlights that at this time, most people didn’t record events. For them, it was more meaningful to connect with the bigger. She explains that this is one of the reasons that ancient gospels appear as a narrative rather than a historical record of events.

It's human nature to interpret facts. Our access to Jesus is through a literary medium, which has been written for different purposes. They are not written to tell us exactly what Jesus was like as a historical person, but that he was the son of God. It's difficult to say how much of those accounts we can say is history, and at what point we can say that specific writing is a story.

Dr. Helen Bond

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, we delved into the origins of Mark’s Gospel and tried to understand how they portrayed Jesus. Helen used this to show that the Gospels don’t present raw facts about biblical events. The authors wrote them in a narrative style and tried to emphasise the positive features of Jesus. They were successful, as people became interested and invested in Christianity, developing faith. Though it’s challenging to distinguish between historical facts and stories, it’s important to question how history has been constructed and understood—a critical stance we should take when reading the Gospels to understand better their original meaning and purpose.

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